Monday, October 21, 2019


My work continues to fascinate me with how people respond to music. There is a man I play for at a mission home. He is what I would call an abstract thinker. Meaning he thinks out of the box.  So when I play for him, I push past my own boundaries and think out of the box.  The other day I improvised on my guitar (instrumental) and played for 45 minutes non-stop. I played everything from blues, jazz, classical, Celtic, folk styles. I rarely improvise for such a long time meaning that I did not know what would come next. Some of the things that came out, I really enjoyed hearing. My friend Mr. C closed his eyes and listened. At one point, I thought he fell asleep. But when I finished playing, he opened his eyes and said, “Moods!”  I said, “Yes, I played a lot of moods, which ones are your favorites?” He said, “I like them all!”  He said he really enjoyed it. He is someone who has some mental health issues, so I feel that playing improvised music matches his way of thinking and processing his world.  I love it that he really gets what I am doing.

At the hospital, I played for a patient in ICU. He was very agitated and moving around and struggling.   For these kind of patients, I try to play very slowly and quietly to help them lock into the slow rhythms to hopefully encourage them to rest and sleep. Sure enough, within 5 minutes of playing for him, he fell asleep. However, he did not stay asleep.  After he woke up, he started in with his struggling and restless movement. I discovered he responded very well to the key of E. It seemed every time I played an E chord, he would stop his struggling and close his eyes and sleep. That is what I try to do in my work with ICU patients. To find a sound, chord, progression that feels familiar and safe and brings them comfort. He eventually fell asleep for a long time.All in a days work. I love my work! Thanks for stopping by.

The picture above is one I took of the sky last week. I think of moods like colors and this describes how I play at times - lots of hues and shades and colors. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Life is a series of improvisations

Yesterday I heard myself tell a friend, "Life is a series of improvisations." It was in response to talking about having to go with the flow of whatever is going on. How many times have had thought you had something planned out, only to find that it never went as you expected?

Well, sometimes this can be a good thing.  Sometimes I'm on the job playing music for someone and something unexpected happens and a door to a new experience comes instead. That's what happened the other day.

I was playing music for two nursing home residents in their room when suddenly, two elderly women burst through the door. Immediately upon hearing the song, "Simple Gifts," they began to twirl and dance around the room.   When I saw how much fun they were having, I followed up with, 'You Are My Sunshine," and they sang and danced and laughed some more.  After that song, they twirled out the door and I was left thinking, "What just happened?" That was fun!

Inspired by their dancing, I put down my guitar and started to sing and dance to the song, "Wade in the Water."  Most of  you know that wonderful  African American Spiritual. What is great about it is that you can improvise new verses. I'd sing,

"Now who are those children dressed in blue?
must be someone I thought I knew...
who are those children dressed in green?
going to a place they've never seeen
who are those children dressed in black?
going to the Promised Land and never coming back...
God's gonna trouble the water...."

The song came to mind out of a nowhere, it seemed and now I can't stop singing it. I wonder what will happen the next time I go sing for them?

The picture above is an illustration of Wade in the Water

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

VSO CommUNITY Play-In Event

This past weekend I had a wonderful experience at the Virginia Symphony Orchestra CommUnity Play-In and Sing Along   It was special for a number of reasons. One is that I went with friends from the Association of Adult Musicians with Hearing Loss (AAMHL) which is a really good group of people  With the help of Access Virginia  we had live captions streamed to our cell phones and a hearing loop system (which allows us to hear directly into our hearing aids/cochlear implants (CI) devices. There was also a sign language interpreter. 

For some of the people in AAMHL, this was their first experience participating in such a big event in a huge arena with so much sound. Without assisted listening devices, it would not have been possible for them to participate fully without being overwhelmed by background noise. We were all very happy to be able to not only participate in such an event but to make history by making the event accessible to those with hearing loss and disabilities.

The other reason it was special is that the concert and event commemorated unity, brotherhood and peace.  It was a response to the white nationalist attacks that took place in Charlottesville in August 2017. More and more we need to come together and understand one another. Black and white, rich and poor, no matter what your religious affiliation, ethnic heritage, age, gender or sexual orientation.  Music brings people together and it was great to feel that Unity.

Among the songs we played and sang were, “Finlandia,” “Amazing Grace,” “America, the Beautiful,” “Ode to Joy,” among others. You can see from my picture that it was a happy and proud moment.

Monday, September 2, 2019

40th Anniversary Adaptive Parks & Rec Picnic

A couple of weeks ago  I had the special occasion to help lead the music and sing along at the 40th Anniversary for Adaptive Parks & Recreation Picnic.   August means to me reuniting with all my friends and colleagues and our extended family at Adaptive Parks & Rec. We sang everything from Elvis Presley to Creedence Clearwater and old spirituals, Motown, country,  gospel and rock and roll.

It sure was a great time. I am so fortunate to know so many good people in my community. Thank you to all who volunteer their time and effort to this special group.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Beats of Cochlea Festival

 Recently I had the opportunity to participate in the 5th annual Beats of Cochlea festival in Warsaw, Poland. It is a festival that celebrates the achievements of musicians with cochlear implants from all over the world. The festival is held at the World Hearing Center. It features the big Gala concert held at the Palladium Theater in Warsaw.  Out of 19 participants, 10 were chosen to perform at the Gala. I was not selected to perform but that gave me the opportunity to support my friends while sitting in the front row. 

We also had a series of classes and activities. My favorite of them were the world folk dances. They are similar to Sufi dancing where everyone dances together in a circle holding hands and using simple movements and gestures. Our other workshop was an interactive jam session where we were all given percussion instruments and we all sang and played together.  It was a good feeling to sing and play music with people from all over the world. We may not have been able to speak well in each other’s native language, but music said more than any words could express. 

This was my second time participating in the Beats of Cochlea festival and I"m so grateful I got to have this experience. If you are a musician with a cochlear implant, I recommend auditioning to participate! 

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Bird Songs

There is a man I visit at a nursing home who loves birds more than anything in the world. He spends most of his days building bird houses. On weekends, when the Activity room is closed and his woodshop is unavailable, he sits in his wheelchair by the window waiting for the Cardinals (his favorite) to go by.

He is also very hard of hearing and most times non compliant in wearing his hearing aids. I got the idea to bring in this book pictured above which would give him good reason to want to hear something. The book features recordings of hundreds of birds around the world.

I wish you could have seen the smile on his face. The stunned expression of awe and heard his laughter. He said many times, "That's amazing!" He was so happy. We listened to all of the birds from Africa. He loved how colorful they are too.

This is the first step in getting him to listen to some music. Maybe I can try to play some bird song calls on my guitar? What do you think?

In any case, it was wonderful to find a way to bring some happiness to someone who has no family nearby and is unable due to disability to go outside to see and hear the birds first hand.

What's your favorite bird?  I can't say I have a favorite, but I like the low sounds of the mourning doves.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Where the music takes you

I play music for a man who lives in a mission home.   The other day when I arrived, he was confused and did not remember me. I tried singing some of the songs that were a hit last time like, “Stand by Me,”  “Under the Boardwalk, “ “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay,” but none of them made a connection. He kept leaving the room and the nurse kept bringing him back. 

Finally, I got the idea to just improvise on my guitar in a bluesy style. He closed his eyes as he listened. At one point, I thought he was falling asleep.  When I finally finished, he brightened up and said, “Wow! I really enjoyed myself!” It showed me that he can listen to instrumental music and let it take him somewhere.  That he enjoys engaging his imagination. Many people get bored with instrumental music. Not him!  It is true that he is a bit of an abstract thinker and so I can understand why improvisation would appeal to him. 

When I arrived to see him, he was confused and disengaged. When I left him, he was happy and excited for me to come back again and play for him. I learned a lot from this experience and I look forward to what will happen next time.